Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE RE-INCARNATION OF BOY

Back to the Fall of 1998, I had had come out and was at peace with it. At the time though I never even thought about what being gay actually meant, practically speaking that is. I mean it had taken twenty-three years just to admit it, dating was the furthest thing from my mind. What I needed was something to throw myself into entirely the way I had with The Really Big Church. I found that when I went back to school. I’d like to say it was the world of academia that consumed me, but no, it was that haven for us freaks of the world, the college theatre department. Having spent the majority of my time since high school in front of a microphone I knew that when I started college at twenty three I was going to miss it. Essentially I had been performing for a living for the last five years and I was worried about what I was going to do now that I no longer had that outlet. However it didn’t take long before I had a new one. After I saw Angels in America I wanted to audition for a play as soon as possible so I scurried on over to the theatre department to see what was coming up. Not that I cared much, I just really wanted to be in a play. The next audition coming up was for The Seagull by Anton Chekov. What the hell was that? Oh well, who cared, I signed up anyway.

  I was bitten by the bug very young. Every year in grade school a traveling theatre troupe would come and set up a stage in the cafeteria and perform, usually some version of a fairy tale with an extra punch on the moral of the story. I lived for these days, I remember waking up with excitement on the mornings I knew they were coming and pushing and clawing my way to the front cafeteria so I could sit up close. I was mesmerized by the actors. I would just sit there Indian style on the cafeteria floor with my mouth agape. I wanted to do what they were doing. Since I was already on my way to being a famous singer thanks to my living room concerts, I figured it would be an easy transition to acting. Even at six was comparing myself to Cher. When I was in the first grade I was picked to play a mouse in the school Christmas play. Ok, actually every first grader was picked to play a mouse but for some reason I chose to block that fact out. Screw those losers; I was going to be the best mouse ever! Needless to say I was a shameless ham. Grown-ups were always telling me how cute my dimples were, so I smiled so hard my face was sore the next day. I really discovered how much special attention you could get by being in a play when I was in the fifth grade. I was chosen out of all the boys in the school to be one of the main characters in that year’s Christmas play; there weren’t even tryouts, they just handed it to me; last time that ever happened. Well I thought I was hot shit, I even got to get out of class early to go rehearse, I thought it was the biggest deal. I remember the night of play right before Christmas 1985 as one of the most magical of my life. I did not know it at the time, but the teachers had got together and decided to give me the part because they could see that I was drifting away from the other boys. They could see that I had no outlet because everything available for a ten year old boy at that school revolved around sports. That Christmas play was my last real happy memory of my Catholic grade school, I think that is why I cherish that memory the way I do.

 Every year from the ages twelve to fifteen I would make my mother take me downtown so I could audition for my town's annual productions of A Christmas Carol and for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Year after year I was turned down but kept coming back for more. Finally when I was fifteen I was cast in the latter and received my very first paycheck for it. After high school my theatre ambitions were sort of waylaid by Jesus Rocks so I was very nervous auditioning for the first time in college. I often wonder where I would be right now if I hadn’t been cast because that moment definitely set the course for the next decade of my life. However, I was cast; I had approximately six lines in a roughly seventeen hour production of Chekov’s The Seagull. I declared my major that week.

Anyone who’s ever spent anytime near a University’s Theatre department knows how seriously those involved take it; you’d have thought we were on freaking Broadway. My sister Pam had dabbled in theatre when she was in college and she warned me that although I might think everyone is a blast to hang out with, you really couldn’t depend on theatre people, screw her, she was wrong; these were my people. I knew immediately I was home. Yes of course theatre does seem to draw more than its fair share of crazies, but really who else would chose to do that with their life? My fear that I was going to be much older than everyone else quickly dissipated, there were many people my age or older including grad students, and since the department was so small we were all merged together. The next four years were all about theatre, just as the previous had been all about singing and The Really Big Church. I decided since the divorce debacle had left my parents unable to help me pay for school that I would borrow the maximum allowed through student loans so I’d only have to work part time. I know what you’re thinking, very smart right? I don’t regret it; I had an absolute blast in college and I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

Following my stellar turn as Yaakov, the scenery moving manservant in The Seagull I auditioned for the BFA program and was accepted. I was even enjoying the school part of school, and not just the theatre classes either. Due to my lackluster performance in high school, not to mention that it had been five years since I’d taken a test, I had to go all the way back to the drawing board in terms of math. Math had always been my nemesis, going back to the fourth grade when I had the flu and missed a week of school. That was the week we started long division and long story short, I just never caught up. The first two math classes I took in college didn’t even count towards anything, but I tested so low that I had to take them before I could even take the university’s basic mathematics requirements. Literally it was like going back and re-learning the fundamentals, not quite two plus two equals four, but pretty close. I am so glad I did this because I ended up getting all A’s in math in college and if you had ever told me that was possible I would have said you were bat shit crazy. One semester I even made the Dean’s list and for someone who always thought of himself as B group that was a huge deal. Mainly though, college was all about the theatre. I should take a moment to say that I never fully intended to pursue theatre as a career. A professor I had, a great man named David Palmer told me one day that your undergraduate degree really wasn’t all that important in the long run, as long as you had one. I took the same stance myself, just as I knew, no matter how many people doubted it that I would eventually go to college; I knew that when I did I was going to concentrate on something that made me happy, no matter how impractical it seemed.

One thing I was kind of excited about once I started to really immerse myself in the Theatre department was the possibility that I might meet someone, more specifically a boy. This was the first time I’d ever been introduced to a whole new group of people since I’d come out, I wasn’t sure exactly how to handle that. Once, when I was still fairly new a guy I was in the show with and I were talking and he asked me with mild curiosity “are you gay?” I totally froze, I had been ready to say yes damnit and now for the first time I was asked directly and I panicked, I literally said “umm, well, uh… no.” Fuck, I chickened out, I felt sick at heart. I couldn’t believe that I said no. I ran after the guy and when I caught up with him I said “actually yes, yes I am.” I remember he looked at me for a second and said “dude, there’s nothing wrong with it” whew, I was relived. Still I said to him “it’s still really new for me so if you know, you could just sort of keep it to yourself for now, I mean don’t lie or anything if anyone asks or anything, umm…” derr, I sounded like an idiot. This poor guy asked what he thought would be a yes or no question and ended up listening to me babble for ten minutes. I decided right then to get it out in the open and out of the way, soon I was inserting “by the way I’m gay” into conversations whether it fit or not. “Can anyone tell me the definition of neo-classicism?” “Well I’m gay so I can.” “Are there any questions about the assignment?” “Yes, I’m gay what pages were we to read again?” “Are you going to audition for that show?” “I’m gay,” “Do you want fries with that?” “Gay!” I figure a lot of people fall into this pattern after they first come out; after all there is no instruction book. Luckily I realized rather quickly how ridiculous I sounded. In a way I was hoping someone’s response was going to be “oh, you are? Well allow me to introduce you to my gorgeous male model friend.” Yeah, that didn’t happen. As a matter of fact leave it to me to find myself to the straightest university theatre department on the planet. There weren’t really a lot of options, but I really didn’t care at that point, like I said I was all about theatre; plus I don’t think I was quite ready yet.

I was very fortunate that first year of college. My second year was equally successful, I was cast in three more main stage shows and started to get very active in student life, at least within the Theatre Arts department. I had my first taste of disappointment at the end of my second year when I did not get cast in the title role of Pippin. Musicals were a rarity in my department and after two rounds of auditions everyone thought I was a shoe in. When the cast list was posted I was listed as ensemble and the title role was left blank. I was furious, and of course we created so much drama amongst our selves that it only fed the flames. I don’t know where I got the balls but I actually confronted the director and asked her why I didn’t get the part. I told you I was getting a bit full of myself. She turned to me and said “well, to be frank it was a hard choice but ultimately, it is a very sexual role and I just wouldn’t buy you as wanting to make love to this girl.” For a split second my righteous indignation flared up then was quickly snuffed out. She was exactly right and I knew it, “thank you” I said and I meant it, “I appreciate your candor. That is something I want to work on.” She told me “I’ve been working with actors all of my life, and this is a very fixable problem, in fact just being aware of it is half the battle.” It was the best bit of advice I ever got, and I was grateful despite the fact that the ringer they eventually brought in to play the role of Pippin had all of the machismo of Little Richard. Interesting side not, as a result of this conversation, or just as a result of finally being comfortable with who I was some of my more flamboyantly feminine mannerisms died off. I’ll never understand it but for some reason coming out made more masculine, go figure.

The summer before my junior year of college I was cast in a professional production of Annie at a summer stock theatre. Granted my childhood imaginings of me in Annie involved me in a curly red wig, sitting on a bunk singing “Hard Knocked Life” with my fellow orphans, but hey, I’ll settle for the role of man number three, after all I was getting a paycheck to be in a show. This was a great experience for me, I got to see how theatre worked outside of a University setting and it definitely broadened the scope for me in terms of opportunities Once I got really involved with my major I started thinking that maybe I would get a Masters Degree and end up teaching theatre. I knew that an actor’s life was not for me. I couldn’t see myself in New York, waiting tables, auditioning and getting rejection after rejection. Not to say I didn’t face some of that where I was. My third year of school was kind of a bitch slap comparatively speaking, at least within the department. I just couldn’t seem to get cast at school. I had started doing shows at theatres off campus, with companies around town; again making a bevy of new friends, but within the Theatre Department I wasn’t as lucky as I had been previously.

By the time I was wrapped up my college career and I been built up a full resume of school shows, off campus shows and summer stock. My last two years I even had an assistantship in the costume shop. I was pretty much regulated to sewing on buttons since I had the tendency to break every sewing machine I touched but it was worth it, it paid half my tuition and allowed me to concentrate on school rather than try to jungle a full time job into the fold. I am very proud of the fact that I am a college graduate, neither of my parents are so I knew how important it was; but for me personally I just feel proud that I bucked the odds. I did not go to college right after high school but I went, just like I knew I would and I did well and managed to graduate in four years. It is something that no one can ever take away. As graduation approached I was pretty sure I would go on to graduate school and become a teacher, life however had other plans for me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

AS GAY AS A PICNIC BASKET

I was going to call this chapter The Awakening or something dramatic like that. Then I realized that was so pretentious I made my own self sick a little. I wish I could say that my life changed the moment I walked out the doors of The Really Big Church. I wish I could say that rainbow flags shot out of my tailpipe as I peeled out of the parking lot while It’s Raining Men was blaring from my stereo. It was not like that. In fact I was quite somber. After all I was never so frightened in my life. I had decided to come to terms with what I was, that was as far as I got. I hadn’t a clue as to how to do that. Just because I admitted it to me did not mean I had any idea how to tell anyone else the truth.

Truth! What a powerful word. I knew that all my life I’d been something of a liar. As I kid I would run the gamut from spinning little white lies to telling huge whoppers. Most of the time I lied to cover up for something I either didn’t do and was supposed to or did but wasn’t supposed to do, like pretty much every child ever, most of the time I lied because I wanted to paint a picture of how I wanted people to see me. I never wanted to appear weak or vulnerable in any way. It probably stems from my childhood, and my reluctance to make waves. I lied to make it seem like I was always ok when I was not. Mostly I lied out of fear of being caught, because being caught might mean being exposed. How and when did I become such a liar? And why had I? I know now it was because I had no concept of truth whatsoever. I was never true to myself so it was impossible for me to be truthful with others. So I accepted the truth, the truth that despite all the years of lying and denying and fighting it, I was in fact as gay a picnic basket.

When I didn’t go to college immediately after high school I could sense that everyone was disappointed. My brother in-law Jay told me that it was a proven statistic that people who didn’t go to college right away rarely ever went at all. He told me this repeatedly in fact. But I knew in my heart that one day I would go to college. I began taking summer courses the summer I left The Really Big Church and enrolled full time for the upcoming fall semester. I was going to be a 23 year old freshman, how hilarious that I thought I was old at the time. I had a plan, but I was still lost. It was a difficult transition. I didn’t fly out of my former life with the wings of a fairy. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even have a job. I moved into my mom and step-dad's basement for the summer. I had not lived at home for a couple of years so the adjustment was hard, especially living with Alli again. I knew it was only temporary until I stared school in the fall and got a student loan check. The problem was I could not see the Fall; I could barely get through the day in front of me. For the next few weeks I would wake up go to class then return to the basement. I cried all the time. I was obsessed with my childhood, I would watch and re-watch all the movies that were my favorites growing up and I would just sob. I realize that The Goonies, and Grease 2 weren’t exactly Oscar winners but I don’t think they were supposed to make you weep like a baby. I felt as if I was mourning something, mourning my innocence, I felt like once I said what I was going to say the little boy I was would be dead. That summer I looked through all of my mother’s photo albums and studied pictures of me growing up. I looked really hard at my own face in these pictures to see if I could connect with that boy again, to see if there was anything in that boy’s eyes that would shed some light on how I ended up the way I was. I fell rapidly into a deep dark depression because I did not know how to verbalize to my family no matter how many times they asked me what was wrong, what it was I was going through. Then right before the Fall semester started after weeks of secluding myself in that basement my mother came down the basement stairs, took my hand and said, “Boy if there is some that you think you can’t tell me, there isn’t.” I looked at her “is there something?” I couldn’t even say yes, I just kind of said “um-hmm,” and started crying. “Do you know there is nothing in the world you could say to me that would ever make me love you any less?” she said. “umm-hmm,” more tears. “Jake, there is nothing you can tell me that I am not ready for, you are my son. You are the best son anyone could ask for. You are my son, I’m ready, I hate it that your life has to be this hard, but I’m ready, are you afraid of telling that you think your gay?” sobbing now I took a very long pause trying to compose myself. Finally I looked into her eyes and said “yes.”

That moment in the basement with my mother felt like someone loosened a vise that had been tightening around my heart, squeezing the breath out of me. In fact after I said “yes” I could actually feel my lungs fill with air. I cried, I cried a lot. My mother did not, she was perfectly composed, perfectly calm, “you know it doesn’t matter one bit to your family” she said stroking my head “I just don’t want your life to be hard.” We really didn’t talk much I just laid there with my head in her lap while she assured me that everything was alright. The she asked me if I’d like to talk to a therapist we knew named Becky. My head shot up out of her lap and I immediately said “yes” “ok,” she said “I’ll go call her.”

I am not sure exactly what my mother told Becky but I had an appointment the next day. I wouldn’t say what I felt was nervous; it was something different than that, it felt like something closer to anticipation. She greeted me with a warm friendly hug and said “well sweetie, long time no see. What’s up?” “I think I’m gay,” I blurted right out. “Well” she said “first of all, have a seat.” I was still standing the doorway. I sat down and she said “you think you’re gay?” I said “yeah” she just smiled at me and repeated herself “you think you’re gay.” It felt like my skin was alive; it was as if I could literally feel stuff peeling off of it. I said again puzzled “umm yes.” She just kept looking at me and smiling, it seemed like forever when it dawned on me to say “I’m gay” no “I think” about it. She just smiled some more and said “Sweetie, that’s wonderful.” Now I was pretty sure Becky was about as liberal and open minded as you can get so I wasn’t expecting her to yell “Queer, get the hell out of here!” but the word wonderful threw me. “Is it?” I asked. “Yes sweetheart it is. You can live your life now.” At once every fear I had, every ounce of anger and resentment I’d been storing up over being gay evaporated. You know the old cliché about feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Well that’s a cliché for reason people because in an instant that weight was gone. There are no words that could adequately do justice to the way I felt. Elation, exhilaration, hope yes, I felt these things but oh so much more. It is hard to describe feeling that kind of complete and total release. I think very few people will ever experience it, I know I never will again in this lifetime. In that moment I felt absolutely no shame, I was truly and utterly free. Aside from the very moment we are born few of us ever get a completely blank slate to start again with, but that’s what I felt I’d been given. I am fairly sure my feet didn’t touch the ground when I left her office, stepping outside was like I’d spent my entire life wearing dark sunglasses and they were suddenly ripped off. Every pore on my skin seemed to be taking in oxygen and just like that it was done, I had come out, I know it sounds so cheesy to say I was reborn but I’m telling you, that’s how I felt. Of course this feeling didn’t last forever, there was no way it could, but from that day forward I was unafraid. I got home and told my mother, she said “Well when you find the right man I want you to have a ceremony because I really want to wear pink and I didn’t get to at the girls’ weddings.” It’s funny that I’d spent that summer trying to re-connect with the little boy I used to be because really, that’s who I was. I was that little boy who used to play with the utensils. I was a confused little child. When I left Becky’s office that warm, sunny afternoon that boy was finally becoming a man.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boy in the Bubble!

BOY IN THE BUBBLE


 All I ever wanted to be was a singer. My sister Pam is a singer as is my Aunt Chrissy and of course my Grandmother the lounge lizard. I had been preparing to be a singer all my life. The elaborate concerts and production numbers I used to put on in our family room, and sometimes back yard when my booming voice was banished from the house had prepared me well. At the time I fancied myself a pro. After all I had sung many solos at school and at church over the years. Singing was my thing. It was the one thing I was totally confident in and knew I did well. I had a lot to learn but more on that later. It was only natural to start a band with some guys I knew from the youth group at church. We had chemistry, we just worked really well together. I had never in my life thought about song writing, but it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world. We were pretty good if I don’t say so myself. We would get together three or four times a week and rehearse. The Really Big Church gave us the space. Right from the beginning it was clear that we all took it seriously, all four of us decided to postpone college, our band was going to become successful in the world of Christian music which at the time was booming, when you are eighteen you are allowed that sort of unbridled confidence. We were going to make it. Also, I just wasn’t interested in going to school at that point.
After much debate we decided to call ourselves “Sole Matter” a little play on the words sole and soul. I know, not so clever. We were building up quite a catalog of songs, and began playing around town. We even played in Tennessee, mostly at colleges or at coffee shops. I ended up writing most of the lyrics. Not all of my songs were religious; in fact most of them were not, they were spiritual or just love songs with the words God or Lord in place of a gender specific pronoun. To this day I feel like I still believe every word I wrote, in this regard I don’t feel in the least bit hypocritical. We produced an independent album that ultimately got us a little bit of attention locally. I threw my whole self into the band, things were beganning to fall apart at home, I wasn’t going to school and there was a monkey on my back so I really needed to feel security coming from someplace. After playing together for a year we seemed poised for something to happen. Then things changed in surprising ways.

One of the guys had fallen in love and decided to follow her to college two hours away. That was a blow to the band but we could work around it and did. Then I got a phone call that set the course for the next few years of my life. As a band we always had tremendous support from the youth department of The Really Big Church. They thought of us as a pet project, they gave us opportunities to play, use of equipment, and rehearsal space. So I stayed in touch with the youth ministry staff at The Really Big Church. I would like to try and establish what The Really Big Church really is in the contemporary Christian world. I don’t want to call it a corporation because that would be unfair. I would call it a Superpower in the Christian Church world. Production values were like anything you’d see at a stadium concert or Broadway show. The Youth Department had their on building, programs, staff, everything. When I was nineteen, a year out of high school I got a call from a woman named Paula who worked in the Youth Department and had always taken a shine to me asking me if I would like to be the new male singer for the Vision band. I would like to try and express to you the magnitude of this, to me Vision was this famous thing that hundreds and hundreds of kids went every week. This was an amazing opportunity that I jumped on. The High School Youth Minister at The Really Big Church was someone I idolized.. He was young, gorgeous, whip-smart and funny and he seemed to take a special interest in me. In my sense of humor which was just a tad off color and in my voice He along with Paula were the ones who turned me into a real singer, they were the ones who gave me all of the opportunities on those choir tours. They are the ones who taught me how to harmonize. Paula’s official title was Youth Worship and Programming Director It didn’t dawn on me at the time that all the men were Ministers and the women were Directors. All I knew is that I was invited into the inner circle. I didn’t yet know how immersed I would become in that circle at the time.

Right away I had a lot to learn. For the next two years I was learning four to five songs a week. Some Christian songs but a whole lot of Top 40, secular pop and rock as well since the purpose of Vision was outreach. Vision was a program consisting of music, skits, videos, and a talk geared toward non-churchgoers. None of it was religion shoved down your throat. It was a fun, inviting atmosphere. I learned all about chord charts and how to sing in two-part, three-part, and sometimes four-part harmony. It didn’t take long for me to become a youth sponsor, one of those fun adult types who were always at the events and going on the trips with us. Keep in mind that barely out of high school myself. Eventually my entire social life revolved around The Really Big Church. I completely fell out of contact with most of my friends from high school.

Some people in my family did not understand my involvement at The Really Big Church. In particular my sister Pam, who is a loud and proud liberal, had issues with it. Once she picked me up at the church after I had been away on a trip and she said, “You’re lucky I’m here picking you up instead of strapping my two babies to my back and carrying a picket sign.” She then went on to say something about gay rights, which I quickly absorbed, and the put away, way up high on my “things to deal with later” shelf. I did not want to hear about any of that stuff I just wanted to stay where I was, safe in my little bubble, where every thing was black and white, where all sex before marriage was taboo, so I did not have to worry about it.

After singing with the Vision Band for almost two years a new opportunity arose. I was offered a full time position at The Really Big Church as the Youth Worship and Programming Intern. I had just moved into my first apartment with some buddies. Slowly Sole Matter fell by the wayside. We still played every now and then but it was never the same. I became fully immersed in The Really Big Church, it became my whole life. I had just turned twenty-one and I had a very important, exciting job at this mega-church. Also my family was falling apart at the seams for the second time and I needed stability. They welcomed me with open arms (or so it seemed) and what they offered me was safety and I lunged at it, because in the back of my mind, I knew the wolves were circling. I became quite good at what I was doing. In addition to helping plan all of the programming and events I continued to front the band, and lead worship, and go on exciting trips. I got to sing in some great places. I got to travel and sing all over the country. However, I was a fraud, I just didn;t know it!

So how does I flamboyant sissy, with tourette's who was raised a liberal catholic fit in with the right wing? Surprisingly well it turns out. I was so young I had no idea of my own political ideals let alone anyone else’s and I had that uncanny ability to take what I like and leave what I didn’t. Yes sometimes something would be said about Homosexuals that would cause me to flinch, then immediately block it out. Yes it’s true that I never fully bought into the theology of the Christian Church. Yes, it’s true I believe the bible is not to be taken literally 99% of the time. I didn’t witness to people. I didn’t talk to my family or few remaining outside friend about the Lord or the church. So how did I justify what I was doing? Easy, I was a liar. I lied to myself every moment of every day. Deep down part of me knew I was living a lie but frankly I thought I could beat it. I was getting very caught up in the status I was attaining too. I got recognized sometimes, mostly by teenagers, but hey I was only twenty-one myself. I was safe there; safe from that horrible thing about myself I did not want to know. I was happy and living a very exciting life. At least I made myself believe I was happy, the fact that I treated myself to six or seven giant meals a day and getting bigger and bigger should have been a tipoff that I was repressing something.
The fact that I had become overweight didn’t seem to bother me as much as the fact that I had no girlfriend. Not that I wanted one mind you, but by the time I was twenty-two my friends were starting to pair up. I had no girlfriend, and everyone else did. I knew very well that I was sexually attracted to men and hot guys surrounded me. This may be a gross generalization but for some reason Christian guys are hot. It’s like reading the bible has some sort of impact on your deltoids or something. However I believed at the time these feelings were just a minor flaw in my character, one that I could conquer. Of course I never told anyone this, even when directly asked by my sister “Do you think you might be gay?” I would always say “no,” then add just for authenticity “If I were gay, I’d be gay” and I almost believed it. I needed a girlfriend, because that was what was supposed to happen next, also, because it would keep people from talking. Naturally I turned to Abby whose friendship I began to value more and more. I knew she had feelings for me, and I knew how much I loved her so naturally in my mind that meant that she must be the one for me. How can I put this? It was like dating my sister. In the end I just told her that I only thought of her as a friend, and after a brief awkward phase of her being heartbroken our friendship returned stronger than ever. Thank God because through it all she has been my very best friend and I cannot imagine my life with out her. She is the Grace to my Will.
The more comfortable I got at The Really Big Church and in my position there the more my true self started to emerge. I was more comfortable am the more my inhibitions lowered, it's totally sub-concious. That’s when I heard of some whisperings amongst some of the kids referring to me as “the gay guy” but by this point in my life I felt as if I knew how to handle that. After Abby I would try to make myself become interested in other girls, always friends of mine but it never worked, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep dodging the issue. However for a while I was so busy that thoughts of a romantic life were always on the back burner anyway. I was still safe in the bubble.

THE BUBBLE BURSTS, BUT IT’S A SLOW LEAK

For four years after high school I lived happily oblivious in the bubble I had created for myself at The Really Big Church. Although at times it felt more like a fish tank than a bubble. For example once I was called into a meeting with one of the big wigs because I was seen coming out of a movie that I should not have been seeing. Let me correct that, I was seen coming out of a movie I should not have been seen having seen. It was Striptease starring Demi Moore. Now, to this day I’ve never seen Striptease starring Demi Moore and I’ve seen everything, clearly someone made a mistake, but one thing I learned working at The Really Big Church was that the appearance of impropriety was just as bad as the deed itself. I’m glad they never found out that I took a personal day the day Madonna’s Ray of Light came out. I learned some scandalous information about people that I knew. I also found out a couple of the dirty little secrets of some of the people who worked there as well and once you learn certain things about someone you cannot unlearn them. My eyes started to open a little bit to the hypocrisy that would be so obvious to me now. Sure these were just human foibles but the way they were swept under the rug bothered me, also they did not fit in with I wanted The Really Big Church to be. I needed it be the place that would keep me safe from sins of the flesh and when I heard these things I would realize that there was no such place. Most of the time I was untouched by that stuff, I just did my job and had a ball. In truth, I hardly ever went to actual church, at least the main service in the huge multi-million dollar complex even though I was supposed to. I mostly stayed at the youth building. I figured I was at church all week long and that was enough. But to be honest it was because I knew I was going to be hearing something I did not agree with.

Internships at The Really Big Church were highly sought after in the contemporary Christian world and were only supposed to last a year. All of the other interns came from colleges all over the country, most of them religious schools. I hadn’t even gone to college. However I was family, I had spent my part of my adolescence with this people and I think they felt that made an investment in me. I was asked to stay on staff for a second year. Two major turning points happened for me during my second year as an intern. The first being when in December of 1997 two boys in the youth group, both seniors in high school who I knew well were killed in a car accident. It was my first encounter with a tragedy of this magnitude. The youth department really rallied around the kids left behind. We tried to provide comfort and answers for them but I was rocked to my core. I was twenty two-years old, practically a child myself, and here I was trying to help teen-agers make sense of such a senseless tragedy. I felt totally out of my depths. I had no words of comfort that I could give, nothing that I could say that I believed with any certainty. I was looking for that myself in life. For the first time I felt like a fraud, and realize how dangerous that could be. What if I said the wrong thing? I remember thinking “I am no great man of faith. I am a little boy hiding here in this church from the things that scare me.” Something inside me turned and I began to think about mortality for the first time, how it could all be over in the blink of an eye and I realized how precious life is and that I will only get one shot at it. What was it that I wanted my life to be? It was an open-ended question, I didn’t come to an answer but the seed was defiantly planted in my mind.

During my time on staff I was put in charge of the High School Drama team, the same one I had been on in high school. This is where I first encountered a boy who popped my eyes wide open. No, I did not find myself attracted to him, I found myself in him. It was like he was holding up a mirror and I saw myself at sixteen; funny, well liked, but confused and desperate to be accepted. This young man was clearly gay. Once we were talking about are favorite music and he told me his favorite singer was Linda Eder, Linda Eder for crying out loud! Linda Eder is a Broadway star. I of course knew who she was, big shocker. He was just like me and he was looking for answers. The youth group at The Really Big Church was huge at this time so all of the core kids were broken up into small groups who met once a week after the Sunday night worship session. I led a group of about seven guys. I was twenty-two they were all sixteen or seventeen. There is a big difference between these ages in some ways but in some other aspects there is not. It was really the blind leading the blind. They shared personal things with me and I shared personal things with them. The problem was, I did not know what I was doing and these boys wanted guidance. They wanted to know how to spread their wings and fly and I was supposed to tell them how. If I knew how to do that I doubt I would have been there in the first place. I began to really take a cold hard look at myself. The young man I mentioned before was in my group and he was going through so many of the same things I had. We talked openly about how everyone thought that we were gay, and how hard that was to fight. I fed him the same old song and dance I gave everyone, including myself, that I wasn’t gay, just effeminate. But something was changing in me. I knew this boy was gay, and he was looking to me to help him. That was when I knew in my heart, in my gut it was time for me to take down that thing I had put on my “to deal with later shelf” and finally look at it. The consequences of this set me free.

Every person’s life is made up of choices. We all come to forks in the road when we are faced with decisions that seem impossible to make. Two months before my twenty-third birthday I knew I was at a crossroads. I began slowly admitting to myself that I was in fact gay. It happened in stages. At first I would admit to myself that I was gay but I chose to fight it. I just decided that even though I was gay it would not be the life I was choosing. I was still pig-headed enough to believe there was a choice involved in the fundamental nature of homosexuality. I began having nightmares. In these dreams I was at my own wedding. The bride was always faceless but every night it was the same. I was walking down the aisle and the feeling that my life was over began to overtake me and I was suffocating. I woke up in cold sweats. I never talked about this with anyone because to even open the lid of the jar slightly would cause the contents to spill all over the place. But I knew the truth. I just needed to own it. I knew that nothing anyone could say or do would change the fact that I was gay. I started saying it out loud to myself in my apartment or in my car. Just saying it out loud to myself was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever gone through. “I’m gay” I made myself say it but I was far from happy about it, it fact I was quite angry. My friends were starting to get married and starting their futures. Everything looked secure for them. Why was I different? Why has everything in my life been a struggle? Why was I cursed with this? Why did the simple things in life always seem to be denied to me? I mentioned forks in the road and when I was faced with this one I made the decision which path I would take.

The second year of my internship was drawing to a close and I knew that if I wanted to I could write my own ticket in the realm of the Christian church world. Two years on staff at The Really Big Church made me a kind of a commodity for other churches. I was offered jobs at a couple of up and coming churches as youth worship and programming director, I could have taken any one of these jobs. But I knew what I had to do. I knew when I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person I saw. Where was that happy boy? Who was this fat liar looking back at me? I didn’t feel safe anymore, I didn’t feel secure; the two things that caused me to seek refuge in the church in the first place. I felt trapped and I was drowning. Was I going to live a life that seemed easy, a life that looked like everyone else’s around me and no one could call an abomination? Could I do that even if I knew it meant living a lie? Or was I finally for the first time in my life, going to except the truth? Funny thing about that, when did except the truth, my life became easy for the first time.

I’ve seen the bumper sticker “Lord protect me from your followers” and I’m always a little tempted to get one. Today Christianity in America is almost impossible to separate from the gun toting, Wal-mart shopping conservative right wing. And I don’t believe that is a fair stereotype although for a while after leaving The Really Big Church I was guilty of promoting it. But I saw up close how misleading it can be. I know all too well how easy it is to have an epiphany or a truly spiritual moment when the lights are perfect and the background music is just right, and the speaker has all the right inflections and tones, it’s produced. I know this because I helped produce it! Look I was burned by organized religion, it considers me an abomination. It’s nothing new of course; from what goes on today in the Middle East and going back in history to rigid lives of the Puritans to the Holy Roman Empire and the Inquisition you’ll see that all your major league atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. So what was I doing there? Was I faking it? The answer is no, not entirely. There is beauty in Christianity as there is in all religions, I learned a great many things about grace and mercy and forgiveness that I learned how to apply to my own life. It really helped me get through a turbulent time in my life. In my little nook of the church we had open hearts and open arms, however not always open minds. Homosexuality was a sin. It said so in the Bible didn’t it? For some reason I refused to open a Bible and look for where that was written. I’m not sure if I was more afraid that if I read it I would find out that it was true or that it wasn’t. I didn’t look at Leviticus 18:22 until years later, “Thou shall not lay with mankind, as with womankind, it is an abomination.” Biblical scholars have been debating over this verse for centuries. Somehow today it has been translated to “homosexuality is the worst sin of all.” How they got from one to the other is beyond me. And why the fixation on that one verse? After all this is the same book that says a man can sell his daughters into slavery. That a person can be put to death for planting certain crops side by side, or for wearing clothing made from two different threads. If homosexuality is an abomination why aren’t those things? Well they are not, at least not to me. I hate when people use the bible as their argument anyway, because it make the assumption that everyone believes how they believe. I look at the Bible as a book that has some truths in it and some great stories about history and some good advice on how to live your life. But do I believe that it was the law, the literal word of God? No, did I ever? No I didn’t. So I ask again. What was I doing there? Simple, I was beginning my journey.

In July 1998, right after my twenty-third birthday I left The Really Big Church. The reason I gave at the time was that I wanted to go back to school. The plan was that I would stay involved and still sing with the band. The people who had become so very important in my life gave me hugs and said they'd be talking to me in a few weeks when all the programs started up again for the Fall. But I knew when I walked out those doors that day and they closed behind me that I was done. I knew that things would never be the same again, and in that moment the bubble burst and I took my first step into the world outside. Being gay is not a choice, but coming to terms with it is. I chose to be who I was. And I have never looked back.